Oscar Hijuelos returns to Havana and finds a family of strangers

Oscar Hijuelos in Newsweek:

1307758152832 The city of Havana in the late 1940s, with its romantic ambience, its splendid sea-worn architecture, and its wall-to-wall music, was at the heart of my best-known novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Though I had only passed through the city as a boy in 1955, I based much of my novel’s portraiture of Havana on both the music I listened to as a youngster and the stories I had heard about it from the Cuban old-timers who would come to our apartment in Manhattan.

I can remember the colossal excitement that erupted in our little kitchen on New Year’s Eve 1958, when the Spanish-language radio announced that the forces of Fidel Castro were on the verge of entering that city. Toasts were made all around. Little did we know that Fidel’s revolution and the American embargo that resulted would bring an end to an epoch when Cubans like my folks, who had immigrated to the United States in the 1940s, could legally travel to the capital of their patria. No, during those years of the Cold War, Havana, like the rest of Cuba, became an abstraction, a forbidden city that seemed to vanish from our reach.

More here.